“Crawling Chaos, The“

“Crawling Chaos, The“
   Short story (3,020 words); written in collaboration with Winifred Virginia Jackson, probably in December 1920. First published (as by “Elizabeth Berkeley and Lewis Theobald, Jun.”) in the United Co-operative(April 1921), a cooperative amateur journal edited by HPL, Jackson, and others; first collected in BWS;corrected text in HM
   The narrator tells of his one experience with opium, when a doctor unwittingly gave him an overdose to ease his pain. After experiencing a sensation of falling, “curiously dissociated from the idea of gravity or direction,” he finds himself in a “strange and beautiful room lighted by many windows.” A sense of fear comes over him, and he realizes that it is inspired by a monotonous pounding that seems to come from below the house in which he finds himself. Looking out a window, he sees that the pounding is caused by titanic waves that are rapidly washing away the piece of land on which the house stands, transforming the land into an ever-narrowing peninsula. Fleeing through the back door of the house, the narrator finds himself walking along a sandy path and rests under a palm tree. Suddenly a child of radiant beauty drops from the branches of the tree, and presently two other individuals—“a god and goddess they must have been”—appear. They waft the narrator into the air and are joined by a singing chorus of other heavenly individuals who wish to lead the narrator to the wondrous land of Teloe. But the pounding of the sea disrupts this throng, and the narrator appears to witness the destruction of the world.
   The story was written shortly after the prose poem “Nyarlathotep” (whose opening phrase is “Nyarlathotep…the crawling chaos…”). HPL remarks in a letter: “I took the title C.C. from my Nyarlathotep sketch…because I liked the sound of it” (HPL to R.H.Barlow, [December 1, 1934]; ms., JHL). HPL appears to allude to the genesis of the story in a letter of May 1920, in which he notes the previous collaboration with Jackson, “The Green Meadow”: “I will enclose—subject to return—an account of a Jacksonian dream which occurred in the early part of 1919, and which I am some time going to weave into a horror story…” ( SL1.116). It is not certain whether this dream was the nucleus of “The Crawling Chaos,” but since there are no other story collaborations with Jackson, the conjecture seems likely.
   Various points in the account carry the implication that the narrator is not actually dreaming or hallucinating but envisioning the far future of the world—a point clumsily made by his conceiving of Rudyard Kipling as an “ancient” author. It is manifest that the entire tale was written by HPL; as with “The Green Meadow,” Jackson’s only contribution must have been the dream whose imagery probably laid the foundations for the opening segments.
   Alfred Galpin (“Department of Public Criticism,” United Amateur,November 1921) wrote charitably of the tale: “The narrative power, vivid imagination and poetic merit of this story are such as to elevate it above certain minor but aggravating faults of organisation and composition.”

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